|(Photo credit: Andy Nietupski/Texas Stars)|
Cedar Park, TX - Goalie Matt Jurusik saved 26-of-27 shots, Jeremy Gregoire scored his second goal in as many nights and Joel L'Esperance scored the game-winner as the Texas Stars closed out an 8-game homestand with a decisive 4-1 win over the San Jose Barracuda Sunday evening at the H.E.B. Center at Cedar Park.
With the teams meeting for the fourth and final time of the season, expectations were elevated for a high-scoring affair with the 2-teams combining for 35 goals in their matchups and having skated to a 7-6 final won by San Jose on Saturday. The expectations went for naught in the opening period as both teams skated to a scoreless tie. Neither team had gargantuan opportunities in the opener as both teams generated 11 shots.
"We said if we played to our details in our structure there will probably be a much lower scoring game" Texas Head Coach Neil Graham said after the game. "We [thought we] probably will get a few at the end of the game when they press and you know there, our predictions were correct on that matter."
The Barracuda opened the 2nd period on the power play and the Stars successfully killed it off with stellar defensive work, however just 30 seconds after the defensive stand, Texas suffered a bad turnover in the neutral zone and Nick Merkley made them pay, beating Jurusik with a pump-fake and burying it to the netminder's glove-side to give San Jose the lead at 1-0, less-than a minute into the frame.
The Stars offense answered the call, dominating the zonetime for the remainder of the period, while the strangling defense kept San Jose at bay in the neutral zone as Texas outshot the Barracuda by an astounding 17-3 in the frame.
Texas finally got to San Jose goalie Zachary Emond with 3:55 left in the 2nd when Jeremy Gregoire found a rebound, an open net and then a flashing red light that did not mean stop. Gregoire's goal, his 7th on the season, tied the game at 1-1 and came when the team sorely needed results.
"I've always been a guy that's like decent around the net" Gregoire said afterwards. "I mean it's only [getting] opportunities and not just forcing anything and just coming, so I hope it's going to keep going and I'm going to work for it."
Gregoire's work did not go unnoticed by the head coach, Graham. "He's a hard-working player, you know he's gonna bring a physical presence to the lineup every night" Graham said of Quebec native. "He's a veteran of the league right, so he understands what it takes to win hockey games at this level."
The third period started with the Stars on the power play, only to have the advantage negated just 50 seconds into the period. Texas ended up with a 4-on-3 advantage just 40 seconds after that. As the power play time expired and the Stars still in their 1-3-1 power play offense, Texas defenseman Ben Gleason, from behind the net on the left, found an open L'Esperance at the top of the right circle and the big Michigan native did not disappoint, sending his one-timer past Emond's glove and in the back of the net for what would be the game-winning goal.
The seldom-used Emond saw his record fall to 1-2 despite finishing the night with 38 saves on the 40 shots he faced.
Texas continued to take the game to San Jose for the majority of the period. The Stars ended up outshooting San Jose 14-13 in the final frame, despite the period shot total being skewed by San Jose going empty net at 1:58 as Jurusik went unblemished the rest of the way.
Jurusik's record improved to 5-2-3-1 while his GAA dropped to a team-leading 2.82.
The game got chippy toward the end with multiple penalties in the final minutes. With the empty net, Ty Dellandrea put one on the board on what some may think was a dirty take-down by Artemi Kniazev. An unencumbered Dellandrea, streaking towards the goal had Kniazev take his feet out from under him, sending a sprawling Dellandrea into the cage, along with the puck, giving the Stars, as evidenced by the numerous 1-goal games played this season, much needed insurance.
"Playing our style, we want to make the playoffs obviously," Gregoire said of the team's - and his in particular - gritty performance. "So it's a playoff game and I think I'm a player that can rise to the occasion in those type of games. I mean I was in the mix and that's a that's a good thing."
Jeremy Rosburg picked-up an additional empty net goal, one of the shorthanded variety, with 9 seconds left - his first goal of the season - closed out the scoring for the 4-1 final. Rosburg also had the lone assist on the Gregoire goal earlier in the contest.
Texas, in addition to the shorty, was a perfect 4-4 on the PK but went 0-4 on the power play.
"You can't get too caught up with the percentages" Graham said of the recent rash of goals not coming on, but just off the power play. "At the end of the day those power plays generated small opportunities, and right now our focus is getting back to to scoring chances on the power play, building momentum, attacking downhill within our structure. recovering pucks with urgency and if you don't score it still builds momentum the next 5-on-5 shift."
With the win, the Stars record improves to 15-18-5-4 (39 pts./.464%) however Texas remains in the cellar of the 7-team Central Division. San Jose saw their record drop to a league-low 15-27-1-0 (31 pts/.360%) leaving them at the bottom of the 9-team Pacific.
"At the end of the day we'll take this. It's points in 3 straight games and now we've got to keep chugging along" Graham said.
Texas gets up bright-and-early for a morning flight into Des Moines where they open a 7-game road-trip with 2 games against the division-rival Iowa Wild starting Tuesday night. The Wild, currently holding the fifth-and-final playoff spot in the Central, are sitting at 20-19-3-3 (46 pts./.511). Iowa leads the entire AHL in penalty minutes with 715, but overcome that shortcoming with a penalty kill unit that's ranked 3rd in the league.
"It's not necessarily looking forward to getting back on the road I think" Graham said of the upcoming twelve-day trip. "We had success on our last road trip but we started the first game off slow and then really got going. We have an early flight tomorrow, rest and hydration is gonna be paramount. We're going to play a very good Iowa team on Tuesday."
Aksiantsiuk - x -Gregoire
Injuries, scratches and notes
Caamano (3rd straight, day-to-day), Damiani (3rd straight, day-to-day), Melnick (4th, day-to-day), Comeau (back/has not played) Louis (late scratch), Khudobin
The 4 scratched skaters have combined for 76 points on the season.
Tonight's attendance was 4,569.